Thursday, November 25, 2010

Explosion of the Double Crested Cormorants

Here's something you don't see every day: a native species pulled back from the brink of endangerment all the way to becoming a nuisance species.

Double Crested Cormorant

The double crested cormorant was a bird native to the Great Lakes whose survival was on the ropes. And now, partially due to the invasive round gobies that have ravaged inland lakes, the native double crested cormorant is becoming a nuisance species choking out ecosystems. Round gobies, in some parts, make up a third of the bird's diet.

Round gobies, if you're not aware, are an invasive species to the Great Lakes region introduced via shipping in the the St. Lawrence Seaway around 1990. They're pretty damaging and wipe out a lot of native fish and game fish.

Wiki Round Goby Pictures, Images and Photos

On one hand, it's great something native finally got a taste for a pretty damaging invasive species. The problem with invasives is usually that there's nothing to control the population and they go crazy and take stuff over.

On the other hand, it turns out the native double crested cormorant has found itself with an abundance of food that other birds aren't eating to the same degree, and now THEY'RE taking over.


I guess it's all about balance.

The island, owned by Point Pelee National Park since 2000, is meant to be a bird sanctuary. In 2008, it was mainly a sanctuary for the cormorants. Some herons and gulls nested there, and other varieties of birds stopped by during migration.

Parks Canada began shooting cormorants -- despite heavy opposition from animal-rights group Cormorant Defenders International -- in spring 2008 and has been doing so every year since then.

"Middle Island is a dying island," said Marian Stranak, Point Pelee National Park superintendent. "The population of double-crested cormorants is just too high for that ecosystem to sustain itself."

The park has a five-year plan to reduce the number of cormorants, which it will evaluate after the fifth year to determine success and plans for the future, Stranak said. Like the U.S. Lake Erie Islands, the goal at Middle Island is to help vegetation rebound, she said.

In other news: US Steel now has stricter regulations on dumping toxins in to Lake Michigan.

Concentrations of chlorine and cyanide will be cut in half and silver concentrations to a quarter, according to a Post-Tribune review of the permit, which still needs final approval. U.S. Steel uses chlorine to kill invasive zebra mussels in the water it takes in for cooling.

The mill's previous permit did not contain limits for cadmium, copper, nickel or silver, but the new one will. The stricter limits are a result of permit modifications and policy changes since U.S. Steel's last permit was issued in the early 1990s. That permit expired in March 1995.

Pretty sweet. And it sounds like US Steel is working with environmental groups to meet those goals.

Less toxic stuff in the Great Lakes means fewer toxins in the fish we eat. And the fish the cormorants eat. And the cormorants we eat.

Now there's an idea.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Great Lakes are Warming Up, About 1 to 2 degrees per Decade

This summer, swimming in Lake Michigan was like swimming in warm bath water, with water temperatures rising into the 80s and staying consistently warm for months. Heavenly. As often as possible we tossed swimmy pants onto the kids, slung a towel or four over our shoulders and walked down to the lake to go for a refreshing dip.

It was pretty awesome, since usually it's kind of a crap shoot whether you'll get warm-ish water or freezing cold water rotated up from the chilly lake bottom in a storm. But this year, warm. Very warm.

Which tends to also mean rougher waters, more undertows and rip currents. 2010 saw a record number of Lake Michigan drownings, at 63, up from a typical 40 in 2009, due to the warm, more turbulent waters.

Another less dire consequence of the warm waters is that many fishermen needed to go further out since they weren't catching salmon in the warmer waters closer to shore.

Now, I realize that there's a difference between Climate and Weather, and what we experienced this year is "Weather" with the warm waters of 2010 more or less unrelated to a general warming trend...

...but there is, as it turns out, a general warming trend for the Great Lakes. According to a recent NASA report, water levels in the Great Lakes have been on the rise in the past 25 years:

NASA used satellite data to measure the surface temperatures of 167 lakes worldwide and found an average warming rate of .81 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and in some lakes, as much as 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit per decade, NASA said Tuesday.

This sort of thing disrupts underwater ecosystems, wetlands, and even has the potential to disturb land based eco-systems and weather patters, since the Great Lakes are already large enough that they influence the weather along the Lakeshore and create micro-climates ideal for fruit production to the East of the lake.

Interestingly, I also ran across an article talking about how lake cyclones work. In the cooling autumn months, the relatively warm waters cause a sudden rise in air exacerbating a cyclone and causing severe winds. As the waters warm over the decades, these we're looking at changing weather patterns on shore.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Percolative Economics

My wife owns a small business. She started it only a couple years ago when she lost her job and health insurance while she was pregnant. That kinda sucked. But she got back up and started her own biz, and her store is doing well. Especially for being a start up.

That business has managed to keep our family afloat for the past couple of years, in fact. It's our life raft. And though it hasn't been years of luxury, we count ourselves lucky to be making dough at all. And when I say Not Luxury, I mean around $8 an hour.

Anyway...she does this thing to me where she sits me down and shows me her books.

"See this money that came in? See what we're getting? See what [employee] is getting? See how much we're sending out in taxes?"

This mirco-business she started as a way to keep her family afloat is taxed enough to hire a third employee who makes more than her and the other person working there.

She's a micro-business.

Not a "small business."

"Small businesses" seem to get a lot of lip service among our political leaders. But when you look into what constitutes a "small business" you're looking at a business that makes less than $20 million a year, or a manufacturer who employs fewer than 500 people.

Most of the businesses that regular people start and struggle with aren't anywhere in the "small business" league. They're more better described as "micro businesses." And yet they hire people. They create jobs. They're the jobs people create for themselves when they have nowhere else to turn.

These micro-businesses are the businesses that deserve a break.

These micro-businesses are the ones that have been ignored because they're too small to get attention, but need help the most.

While tax cuts and credits and capital gains cuts for buying equipment are passed around to the "small businesses" ....what's going to the micro-businesses?

We've set up a system that rewards the HUGE businesses and the RICH people, but sucks the life from the poor and middle class and the micro-businesses.

In my view of the world, policy is directed to the benefit of the smaller people: the ones struggling from the bottom. Policy should be directed at encouraging social mobility. I don't believe in Trickle Down economics. I believe in Percolative Economics. That prosperity for all must begin at the bottom and percolate up.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Just Another Civil War

As I read more about US history, a certain thematic consistency becomes pretty obvious.

States Rights "conservatives" and Federalist "liberals" have hated each other since before the day the United States declared its independence, and they've been bickering pretty much ever since. And of course there was that whole Civil War thing.

Why, it's as American as apple pie and root beer.

When the US created trade tariffs in 1816, you can bet the South and the States Rights folks were right there complaining about it and calling it unconstitutional, culminating in the Nullification Crisis of 1832 when South Carolina positioned its militia to enforce the state's assertion that they should be able to pick and choose which Federal laws applied to them.

History is full of States Rights advocates bemoaning Federal laws as unconstitutional and over-reaching. Same thing happened with anti-slavery laws. The income tax. Social Security. And of course, more recently, Health Insurance Reform.

Yessir. The current national conversation we're having isn't new. In fact, it's very old.

Folks like Glenn Beck and Rick Perry, the Governor of Texas, seem to love to blame Woodrow Wilson for some new wave of Government Overreach, but really...they should be going further back than that to Alexander Hamilton who wrote much of the Federalist Papers.

Hamilton who wrote:
Even to observe neutrality you must have a strong government.


In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself.

Folks like Beck and Perry would have people believe that Strong Federal Government is a new thing, and that a Weak or Hands Off Federal Governmet is our heritage, when that's never, ever, ever been the case.

Federal Government has the authority to trump the States.

It always has.

It always will.

And that's one of the things that allowed America to become great.

A Strong Federal Government IS our history. It IS a source of our strength.

And yet, again we see folks like Glen Beck and many on the right mobilizing the classic American rivalry. They're using the historical, Anti-Federalist sentiment and Anti-Federalist rhetoric it yet ANOTHER push to change what America has always been, and weaken the Federal Government. Even as they decry some "new" American over-reach as unprecedented and, once again, "unconstitutional" they're still basically what they've always been...the insurgent South trying to pick and choose what part of this Union they want to agree with, and what laws they want to abide by.

The insurgent South.

I encourage our leaders to stand by their Strong Federal Government beliefs. To wear them with pride. To know they have history on their side.

We Are Americans first, and that's where our strength is. It's not surprising that Obama campaigned on National Unity. No Red America or Blue America but a United States of America. That is a Federalist sentiment. And it has the backing of the entire history of this nation.

Likewise, it's not surprising that Anti-Federalist Conservatives in office would attempt to derail the power of the Federal Government. Would refuse compromise.

We are having now the same battle we've always had.

This is nothing new. And we're going to win again, as long as our American leaders realize the RIGHTNESS and HISTORICAL primacy of a Strong Federal Government.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Republicans Are Inheriting Michigan Job Growth and Budget Surpluses

It was a pretty big week for the Republicans, during the 2010 elections. They won control of the US House of Representatives and they won the House, Senate, and Governorship in Michigan.

So before they even set foot in office, I want to make some things clear for posterity. This message is meant for people of.........

...THE FUUUUUUUUTUUURE. Cuz people of THE FUTURE seem to very quickly forget what things were like in THE PAAAAST.

Ready, Future Readers?

Job growth in Michigan , 2010, began a full year before the batch of Republicans soon to take over leadership even got elected. Before many of them even started campaigning. And definitely before any of them takes office two months from now.

Not only that, but we also have a $100 million surplus.

If more folks realized that, they may not have voted out the folks who made our diversified economy and job growth possible. Yeah...the people who helped us turn the corner should have let us know their accomplishments, but Democracy is a two way street. The voter needs to be paying attention...

...which brings us to the US Department of Labor statistics for Michigan's employment.

And more specifically, here's the historical data for Michigan's employment. Look at the Employment Column, specifically. The Unemployment Rate doesn't tell us as much because it's just a percentage of people who don't have work who are looking for work. You can have lower unemployment but fewer employed people if suddenly a lot of people just give up looking for work. So unemployment tells us less than just looking at the number of people who have jobs.

Note that employment in the year March 2000 is 4,983,282 people, and then watch the number drop month after month after month after month after month. It's worth noting that Republican Engler was Governor until January 2003.

January 2001: 4,949,171 jobs : 34,111 jobs lost.
January 2002: 4,757,528 jobs
January 2003: 4,699,742 jobs--> This is the month Engler left office and we had already lost 283,540 Jobs in Michigan from 2000 to 2003.

Month after month after month we saw a decline, nearly every month except for a period in 2005 and 2006 where we saw a period of job growth until the Recession of 2007 hit and job losses began again.

Month over month declines.


4657217 --> Obama is inaugurated.

4136416 --> Here is where we turn the corner after 37 months of non-stop job losses.

4146577 +10,161 jobs
4160262 +13,685 jobs
4168891 +8,629 jobs
4198482 +29,591 jobs
4221828 +23,346 jobs
4222232 +403 jobs
4209413 - 12,819 jobs
4196911 -12,501 jobs
4201317 +4,406 jobs

-------------> Michigan saw a net gain of + 65,204 jobs in 2010 after many,many years of job losses starting in 2000.

Michigan's economy is a lot more diverse than it's ever been, and is finally seeing job growth and budget surplusses just in time for Republicans to seize the reigns and likely claim credit for a growing economy that started well before any of them even considered running for office.

I do hope our new Republican leaders make some wise choises. I do hope they re-invest that budget surplus in Michigan's economy rather than give it away to the DeVos family and the wealthy of Michigan. I hope they keep their hands of policies that have ushered in new industries such as the emerging renewable energy manufacturing industry in West Michigan. I hope they continue to give targeted tax incentives to businesses for setting up shop in Michigan. I hope they continue to film tax rebate to keep Michigan front and center on the National stage and incubate new businesses and jobs here. I hope they continue the Pure Michigan campaign to lure tourism to Michigan.

And I hope that the work they do ADDS TO the job growth we're already seeing as a result of Granholm's efforts at diversifying Michigan's economy for the long term.